EARLY WARNING

On Sunday 2nd April I’ve been invited ‘into the spotlight’ on the “We Love Memoirs” Facebook page where I will be revealing for THE VERY FIRST TIME the title, cover and publication date for MY NEW BOOK!

If you are a reader and don’t already belong to that page you may like to join it, because whatever your taste you will find something to enjoy. There are hundreds of titles from authors like NYT best-seller Victoria Twead, Joe Cawley, Jacky Donovan, Frank Kusy and Beth Haslem (and me!) and many, many more.

There are memoirs that will lift you up, shake you up, take your breath away, make you laugh and make you cry as authors open the curtains on their lives of adventure, misadventure, survival, laughter and joy, from dog lovers in Dubai to a dominatrix with her own London dungeon.

With almost 4,000 members it is a fun and sometimes rowdy but always super-friendly group, offering frequent giveaways, competitions and opportunities to relate directly with the authors.

I’ll be on-line from 11.00 am local (French) time to chat and answer questions about my books, thermodynamics and the meaning of life.

Click on image to go to the We Love Memoirs Facebook group.

17553560_10158415333475052_2893650068861915785_n

 

Suspicious minds

A funny thing happened this week.

I volunteer at a charity shop raising funds for abandoned and abused animals. Mostly I am in the book department, where we have a vast quantity of both hardback and paperback books donated by well-wishers and which are sold for 1 euro each.

capture

The ‘shop’ isn’t exactly a shop in the conventional sense. It’s a collection of barns and outbuildings selling quality bric-a-brac, furniture, linens, clothing, children’s games and toys, electrical goods, DVDs, CDs and the aforesaid books. There is also a tea shop where shoppers can spoil themselves with the very best of home-baked cakes and pastries.

Anyway, a lady came in on Tuesday and selected a number of books, and when she came to pay I noticed that a couple of them were written by me.

I said to her, “Oh, I hope you’ll enjoy these – I’m the author.”

She stared at me and said, “What?”

“I wrote these two books.” I tapped the covers. She looked at the books and then back at me, and didn’t seem convinced.

She turned her attention to my apparel, which was suited to mid-February in rural France. Fleecy trousers and tops, scarf, boots and woolly gloves all topped off with a red nose.

“Then what are you doing working here,” she asked. “I thought writers were rich.” 😀

Contrast that with what happened many years ago in the Brighton branch of the greatly missed and much-lamented Borders Bookshop, where you could sit and read for as long as you wished on a comfy sofa, and drink coffee and eat cakes, when one of my titles was newly-released and piled up on a table at the front of the shop. The friend I was with walked up to the person behind the counter and said: “This lady is the author of that book – she’ll sign some copies if you like.”

So the man came from behind the counter, found me a chair, and not only did I sign every copy, he found other titles of mine on the shelves and asked me to sign those too.

Without asking for any proof that I was the author!

Looking back I suspect he must have been relatively new or very confident that the books would sell, because bookshops cannot return unsold books to the publisher once they’ve been signed. My agent, the lovely Maggie Noach had told me that. Luckily for that man the title sold well and I don’t recall that there were ever any returns.

Here’s the King, never been equalled.

Sometimes a Great Sentence

There are times when I read a phrase or sentence and think “I wish I had written something as inspired as that.”

Today was one of those moments.

This is NOT in any way politically motivated on my part, but simply a tribute to sublime penmanship.

A friend sent me a link to Harper’s Weekly Review, where among many other pithy comments by Sharon J Riley, the following perfectly crafted gem appears:

“I won the popular vote,” said the president-elect, who did not win the popular vote.

Chapeau, Sharon. 🙂

The People’s Book Prize – as it happened

I planned to write this as soon as I returned home from London, but what ever goes to plan here? 🙂 Instead I worked my way through the 127 emails and dozens of Facebook comments that had accumulated in the one and a half days I was without Internet access.

And by the time I’d done that and sorted out the washing etc. etc. etc. and had a busy week, it had slipped from top of the list to way, way down. But now it’s a peaceful Sunday morning and TOH is out for the day, so here goes.

Firstly all the panic about possible flight delays or cancellations proved to be a waste of time and panic. Everything ran on time, and I reached my accommodation at 9.00 pm on a warm dry summer evening.

Next day started off with blinding sunshine, which by 11.00 am had given way to lashing rain, which persisted throughout the afternoon.

Dressed in my finery and sandals, and wielding an umbrella, I travelled with Stephanie to the venue at Stationer’s Hall. We were only slightly soggy when we met up with the rest of the Blackbird Digital Books contingent – intern Rosalie Love and authors Tanya Bullock (gosh, she is so tall and slim, gorgeous) and Diane Chandler with her husband Nick, and made our way into the splendour of Stationer’s Hall.

Organiser Tatiana put all the finalists through their paces in a dress rehearsal of where we should be, when and how, and once we had all been photographed we moved on for drinkypoos and had the pleasure of meeting and chatting for several minutes to Frederick Forsyth.

Dinner was served. The starter was a pretty pastel green pea mousse, decorated with a Parmesan wafer. Yummy. Main course was cod for the carnivores, but most people on our table were served the vegetarian option, a tasty pastry filled with spinach and mushrooms and served with crushed potatoes, followed by an excellent deconstructed lemon meringue pie.

Then we got down to business, beginning with the Beryl Bainbridge award for the best first time author. This went to Quentin Letts for ‘The Speaker’s Wife’

Best Publisher award was taken by Percy Publishing.

Then it was time for the non-fiction finalists to mount the platform (amidst much giggling). The prize went to Rachel McGrath with her book ‘Finding the Rainbow,’ her account of her struggle to conceive. Winners took seats at the back of the platform, while the rest of us negotiated the steps back down to floor level and took our seats with a sigh of relief at not having to make a speech. 🙂

The prize for the Children’s Book went to lovely smiley Ellie Stoneley’s Milky Moments.

I can’t remember Frederick Forsyth’s speech word for word as he prepared to announce the winner of the Fiction prize, but it was something in the order of ‘now let’s move on to the winner of the BIG prize, Fiction. An interesting one, because I was talking to her earlier over there’ – he nodded his head towards the room where we had drinkypoos.  And that’s when I knew who the winner was. Incidentally, willowy Tanya, who was also a finalist in the fiction category with her beautiful book That Special Someone, is so tall that she could read the name of the winner over his shoulder. 😀

The People’s Book Prize for fiction went to Diane Chandler for ‘The Road to Donetsk’. YAY!!! Bravo Diane, I am so thrilled and delighted for you.

And bravo Blackbird Digital Books. For a small publisher to not only have three titles in the finals but to scoop the BIG prize too, that is special. Stephanie works unbelievably hard to promote her authors, and has built up a stable of the nicest and most  talented writers you could hope to find.

Dr Sarah Myhill picked up the final award for Best Achievement with her book ‘Sustainable Medicine’.

Winners 2015 (1).jpg

Winners of The People’s Book Prizes, 2016

To the people who stayed up for several hours waiting to see the ‘live broadcast by Sky News,’ although they were indeed filming the event, Theresa May’s accession to the Tory Throne took priority. It was rescheduled for showing on Friday, but was overshadowed by events in Turkey.

There was only one way to wrap up the evening, so we retired to a local hostelry and celebrated Diane’s win with a large bottle of Moët, courtesy of Diane and Nick. 🙂

As well as meeting Diane, Tanya and Rosalie for the first time, earlier in the day I met up with long-time Facebook mate the very lovely Jacqui Lofthouse, and newest Blackbird author Susie Lynes, whose first novel, Valentina, a psycho-thriller is raking in the 5-star reviews.

To all those people who voted for me, without you I would not have been a finalist and had such a blast, so thank you enormously. 🙂

One swallow ………..

…. does not a summer make.

Neither do fourteen, it seems, as Midsummer day is almost upon us and the weather continues to be cool, damp and grey with frequent heavy downpours and occasional violent storms. This afternoon we are threatened with a hail storm. Given the choice of excessive heat, or excessive rain, I would choose the latter, but it really has been a dismal start to summer, and from the forecast it doesn’t look as if we can expect any improvement for another few days at least.

The garden is luxuriant both in terms of plants and weeds. The rose bushes are bent beneath their own weight, but the blooms are ragged and soggy. The lawn never dries out sufficiently for mowing.

IF

But on the bright side, the swallows are flourishing. The four who arrived in mid-March are now fourteen as far as I can count, all feathered and flying. Hopefully there will be more to come, as they often raise two broods before they migrate in the autumn.

A consequence of all the renovations that have taken place in rural areas is that swallows and owls have lost their ancestral family homes. All the barns and previously deserted houses in our hamlet have been converted into either permanent or holiday homes. It is really heart-breaking to see the swallows, when they arrive, flutter around windows that were once empty gaps, as they try in vain to reach the beams where they had nested for generations.

Although we renovated one tiny old house as a holiday home, several years ago we stopped using it for that purpose and instead use it for storage. I leave the upstairs windows open throughout the year for ventilation, and as soon as the swallows discovered that, they were in like Flynn and building their nests. They also established themselves in the little wooden chalet in the garden. We are able to watch at close quarters as they work through the daylight hours to fill the gaping mouths of their young. The birds are quite used to us being in close proximity.

Hungry swallows

Last year we met a couple who were temporarily without accommodation, and offered them the opportunity to ‘camp out’ in the small house, on the understanding that there would be birds swooping in and out and around the bedroom. They reported that as the young fledged and began practising flying, lying in bed was like being on the platform at Waterloo during rush hour. 😀

There is an obvious consequence of having birds living indoors, but clearing up their mess is a small price to pay for the pleasure of knowing we have given them space to raise their young in safety. Once they were a common sight here, but over the years their numbers have dropped alarmingly. We must help them in every way we can.

As I am writing this I can see a dozen or so swallows swooping around the garden, plus the goldfinches, blackbirds, wagtails and woodpeckers. None of them seem discouraged by the weather, although the swallows look rather soggy.

Soggy swallow-2

While discussing swallows, I thought I would mention for those who don’t know, that my book ‘Swallows and Robins – the Laughs and Tears of a Holiday Home Owner’ is a finalist in The People’s Book Prize 2016. The winner is chosen by public vote, and the award ceremony will be broadcast by Sky News on 12th July at 8.00 pm. If you would like to vote for me, here is the link to click. If you voted for me in the first round, thank you, please do continue to support me by voting again. Finalists are listed in alphabetical order, so you need to scroll down.

PBP Finalist
Click image to go to voting page.

I know that we are not alone in having unseasonable weather, and that while some are suffering floods others are suffering heatwaves. Here’s hoping that for all of us we soon have some relief and can get out of the house without being either drenched or baked. 🙂

 

 

 

Not yet a novelist

It doesn’t happen often, that I am left speechless. Even if it’s only a curse I can usually muster a couple of words.

Being unable to write is a new experience. Never have I stared blankly at a bare sheet of paper for ten minutes and failed to find a single word worth writing.

But on Wednesday  that’s what happened. Unnerving.

I’ve sometimes been called a novelist. The definition of a novel is a story invented by the writer – a tale about imaginary characters and events. In other words, fiction. The person who writes a novel is a novelist.

All my books so far have been non-fiction. They are about actual events, people and places. They are not novels, and I am not a novelist. I’m a writer, or author. However it is increasingly common to hear all writers referred to as novelists. Does it really matter except to the pedants?

But I have meandered away from the point.

Our guest speaker at the May literary luncheon hosted by Charroux Literary Festival was the effervescent Alison Morton, author of the Roma Nova novels. After lunch Alison held  a workshop on ‘character and setting.’ The first part of the exercise was to create a character. In ten minutes.

While the 17 other guests bent their heads and wrote diligently, my mind became a vacuum. The minutes ticked by. Alison called: “You have five minutes left!”

I felt a wave of panic. This is how Masterchef contestants must feel as the clock ticks down and their panna cotta hasn’t set. I quickly scribbled down the most clichéd character imaginable, and as quickly scribbled them out. When our ten minutes was over, my character was non-existent. It’s the hardest piece of writing I’ve never done. I could feel sweat trickling down my back, and my throat had dried up.

Things looked up when we went on to the second element of the exercise,  creating a setting. From nowhere came a muse who settled on my shoulder and helped squeeze out a couple of hundred words.

The final part of the exercise was to swap all our characters and settings around anonymously, and create a story from them. Pity the poor person who was landed with my non-character.

I landed on my feet, as the character and setting, although devised by two different people, could have been written for each other, and I regained my writing mojo, for the first time actually writing fiction. And loving it. Something I have never believed I am capable of. That doesn’t mean I’ve become a novelist – 200 words do not a novel make, but I can see a glimmer of light beckoning from the end of a previously unknown tunnel.

Since then I have been creating characters in my head, and without the pressure of the ticking clock have found it addictive and fascinating.

Alison is – forgive the cliché – a prolific author with a huge fan base, and has written five novels in the Roma Nova series in three years. She also blogs energetically and offers advice and help for writers. I bought her book The 500 Word Writing Buddy which contains  no-nonsense, succinct advice delivered with a generous dollop of humour. It has motivated me to hope that one day I will deserve the title of novelist.

download.jpg

First, however, I must finish the current non-fiction book I am working on. 🙂